The devastating Camp Fire changed everything for every single person who lived in Paradise and all the surrounding towns. I’m choosing not to give a synopsis of what the denizens of Paradise experienced in the Camp Fire because it’s something that can easily be googled, and those who have lived through it don’t need to read about it, again (and again, and again).
What I want to talk about in this article is the PTSD that is sweeping through Butte County and touching every person here - not just the folks who made it out.
The people who fled through walls of flames are survivors! They are warriors!
But this article isn’t about them…….
The people who were in Chico or Oroville and who weren’t allowed to drive up to Paradise to save their loved ones. They had to sit and wait to hear.
The families who have sheltered their loved ones after they made it out of the fire.
The people who have volunteered at shelters, churches, or raised funds.
The individuals and groups who raised money or virtually adopted families.
The employees at the stores when people were shopping for the donations or when they ran out of air filters and air purifiers. Those on the front lines witnessing the plight of others day after day as a part of their job.
The ones who had compromised immune systems or lungs and couldn’t leave their homes to help, but who were inundated on tv, internet and social media.
The folks who haven’t been able to get apartments, jobs, or child care because the town grew too fast with more people than there are resources and now supply and demand is on high on demand and low on supply.
The days and weeks that smoke hung in the air, clouding our vision, choking our throats, and seeping into homes between the cracks.
Watching so many people affected so thoroughly, and not being able to stop it or “help enough.”
THESE PEOPLE ALSO HAVE PTSD - or at least Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder.
(Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another).
I keep hearing people compare their pain. They say, “but it could have been worse…” and follow that statement with a catastrophic fantasy that could theoretically happen or has actually happened to someone else. They discount their pain because others are also hurting.
But that doesn’t alleviate their pain.
Comparing your pain to someone else’s compounds your hurt so that now you’re hurting and also ashamed about it. Now, more statements start coming up about being weak or selfish. Now you’re in pain, you’re ashamed, and you’re labeling yourself.
And still not reaching out for help.
Because other people need it more than you do.
That’s not how pain works.
Pain is pain is pain.
Anxiety is anxiety is anxiety.
Trauma is trauma is trauma.
Those things don’t compare themselves with others, they just take up residence in your heart and mind. If gone unchecked they continue to grow until they become a beast you can’t ignore anymore.
You don’t have to waste your time waiting for it to grow larger. Your sacrifice of "not going to talk to someone about it" isn’t actually helping anyone out in the world who has suffered more than you. You aren’t giving up your spot for them. You’re just suffering needlessly.
I know that as the summer heat has set in, I myself, have been feeling a little anxious about fire season. It’s been windy lately. It’s getting warmer and warmer. I’m a therapist and I’m feeling it. I’m also hearing the fear around me at the grocery store, with clients, and on my social media pages. It’s out there. But we don't have to keep it to ourselves. We don't have to feel alone within a sense of foreboding. There's something we can do: we can talk, we can support each other, we can make each other feel NOT CRAZY for feeling so bad about things that have happened.
You don’t have to have been a fire survivor to be one of the survivors of this catastrophic event. It’s okay to reach out for help; to talk to someone trained to help you get through to the other side of the tension and stress.
Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #104464
Jessica provides therapy to families, individuals, teens, and couples in Chico, California. To see if she has any openings and set an appointment, you can reach her at: